Google AdWords - It's a RaceWhen you buy pay-per-click advertising on Google through its AdWords program, you really buy the opportunity to get your little text ad on a Google page.

Next, you have to meet Google’s standards for “ad quality” to have a prayer of getting a position high up on a page, or even placed at all.

Google combines how much you bid with an ad quality score to set the “Ad Rank” that determines your ad’s position. Your higher ad quality could get you higher Ad Rank than a competitor who bid more. And on the downside, Google could charge you close to your maximum bid for a low-quality ad, even with no competitors.

Google’s goal is to continually favor strongly performing ads over weak ones; success breeds success. So it pays to get AdWords quality right.

The Big Three Markers of Ad Quality

1. Expected click-through rate

Google bases this partly on how well the ad has already performed for previous searches, compared to other advertisers and your other ads. You can improve click-through rate by writing (and testing) more compelling ad text, for instance offering a clear benefit for the click (“free shipping”) or a clear call to action (“get a quote”).

Ad extensions”, the extra links you can add to display your address or reviews or deep links to your site, also improve click-through rate and help Ad Rank (though Google may not display them if your Ad Rank is too low).

2. Relevance to the search term

Google assesses how well the wording of your ad and landing page matches the query coming in from the user. The most direct path to relevance is just to include the target keywords in the headlines of your ads–but that’s tough to scale.  You can also improve relevance by reorganizing the ad groups in your AdWords account so they include smaller sets of keywords that closely relate to one product or service, and then write ads that more specifically target those products or services.

3. Landing page experience

Searchers who click your ad should land on a page that fulfills the promise of the ad. If the ad mentions a 30%-off coupon, it better well be there. In general, Google wants to see an easy-to-navigate landing page, particularly one that accommodates mobile users. A landing page need not include the words from the search query; Google is really down on stuffing pages with search terms.

How to Check Ads Quality, Almost

You can see a “Quality Score” from one to 10 for each of your keywords in your Google AdWords account, under the Keywords tab. That’s a read on how the keyword might perform based on its recent performance for click-through, relevance and landing page experience in searches for that specific keyword on It’s worth watching for your high-value keywords.

Quality Score is not the exact formula for ads quality that Google applies at the time it auctions positions on the page—that formula includes real-time factors such as time of day, location of the searcher, device (mobile vs. desktop computer) and the specific query that triggers the page.

But it is a good diagnostic test. A score of four or less is a red flag. AdWords breaks down your Quality Score by expected click-through rate, ad relevance and landing page experience, rating each as better or worse than average, which gives you direction on where your keyword stable needs work. For instance, you may do well on relevance but flop on landing page experience—a sign you should pump up that 30%-off coupon right away.